4 Workers, Gunman Die in Caltrans Yard Attack
Five people were killed and at least two others wounded, including a police officer, after a former state employee wielding an assault rifle opened fire Thursday at a Caltrans maintenance yard.
The gunman, identified as Arturo Reyes Torres, 41, of Huntington Beach, was killed in a shootout with police at a nearby street corner.
Orange County’s worst outbreak of workplace violence in more than two decades began shortly after 3 p.m. at the state Department of Transportation facility on Batavia Street, in an industrial area of Orange, police Lt. Art Romo said.
There were unconfirmed reports that the gunman had been fired recently.
Witnesses told police that the gunman shot and wounded his first victim in the parking lot of the complex as the man sat in his Volkswagen.
The gunman, walking in a driving rain, then circled the trailers at the site and fired through the windows with his assault rifle, picking off employees inside in a methodical march around the offices, Romo said.
By nightfall Thursday, police said, four male office workers had died. One was identified as Michael James Kelley, 49, of Fullerton. A fifth man was hospitalized with a foot injury.
There was no official explanation of the motive.
“We’ve got two major crime scenes . . . and we’re just trying to figure out what happened,” Romo said.
Police said they exchanged fire with the suspect at the Caltrans facility and then chased him about 100 yards south to the intersection at West Taft Avenue. Driving a brown Mercedes sedan on the wrong side of the road, the killer stopped just short of a white BMW in a right-turn lane on Taft.
The driver of the BMW, Wayne Collins, said the gunman jumped from the Mercedes and pulled his weapon, according to Collins’ mother, Ann Collins, 72.
The gunman fired, but Collins ducked and was not hit. He remained crouched on the seat of his car during the shootout.
After firing at Collins, the gunman turned and was walking back toward his car when a “major gunfight” ensued, Romo said, leaving the gunman dead and an officer wounded. A witness said the gunman was shot as he leaned on the trunk of the sedan firing rounds. Police said he was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun.
The wounded officer was not identified. Police said he normally works bicycle patrol but took to a car Thursday because of the rain. He underwent more than two hours of surgery at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and was listed in stable condition. Hospital officials said he was expected to recover.
As police cordoned off the area, a body could be seen covered with a yellow tarp and lying next to the four-door Mercedes in a rain-swollen gutter. On the ground lay what appeared to be an assault weapon. The rear window of the sedan had been shattered by bullets.
One witness, Robyn Denuccio, barely missed being shot.
For a moment, she locked eyes with a man she had never met, looking down the barrel of an AK-47 pointed directly at her and her blue Chevy Blazer, with one son in the front seat and two toddlers in the back.
“A lot of things went through my head,” Denuccio said. “It was like a movie. I could see my husband and my son walk into my house. The house is dark. I could see them opening the door, and it’s dark, and their family’s dead, right before Christmas.
“I was looking and thinking, is he really going to shoot me?”
He tried, she said.
Denuccio, who pulled into the intersection of Taft and Batavia in the middle of the gun battle, escaped with three bullet holes in her truck--two from the gunman and one from the police--but no injuries to her family.
“I’ve had my Christmas miracle,” she said.
In the aftermath of the shootings, police officers in rain slicks searched puddles at the intersection for spent cartridges, while employees of nearby businesses huddled behind police tape and craned for a view of the suspect’s body.
Robert Rosario, 27, of Anaheim said he was nearly caught in the cross-fire.
Rosario said he was on Taft waiting to make a turn onto Batavia when he saw the Mercedes traveling in the wrong direction.
“The cops were pulling up in front of me in the intersection,” Rosario said. “I thought they were stopping because of traffic. They hopped out of the car, two or three of them, and just started firing at the guy.”
Witnesses depicted a prolonged, chaotic scene. One woman told television reporters she heard shooting for a period of minutes that sounded “like a sonic boom.”
Rosario said he saw the gunman moments later.
“I saw the guy with a rifle and he was going to start firing,” Rosario said. “Once I saw him getting out with the rifle, I just put my head down, so I could barely see in front of me, and got out of there.”
Rosario said that as he cut to the left and south on Batavia, he heard the popping sound of handguns and the louder echoing sound of a repeating rifle.
“I just heard the bullets flying,” he said. “The cops were moving in on the guy, and he wasn’t about to give up.”
Patrol officers securing the scene shook their heads when they heard about the suspect’s mini-arsenal.
“This doesn’t happen here in Orange,” one officer said. “It’s pretty scary stuff when you’re facing that kind of firepower.”
The shootings were the deadliest workplace violence in Orange County since July 12, 1976, when Cal State Fullerton janitor Edward Charles Allaway shot nine people in the campus library, killing seven.
The Batavia Maintenance Station is a Caltrans facility used by several crews that maintain highways, roads and electrical signs.
About 60 people report to the facility, but Caltrans said it was more crowded than usual Thursday. The shooting occurred during a shift change, and other employees were at the site for management training.
Times staff writers Lee Romney, H.G. Reza, Steve Carney, Lisa Richardson, Geoff Boucher and Scott Martelle and correspondent Lisa Addison contributed to this report.